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House passes ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal amendment

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The U.S. House took historic action on Thursday by voting in favor of a measure that would put an end to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law prohibiting openly gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans from serving in the U.S. military.

Lawmakers approved the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), by a 234-194 vote after hours of discussion on whether Congress should repeal the statute.

Five Republicans voted in favor of repeal: Reps. Charles Djou (R-Hawaii), Joseph Cao (R-La.), Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas). Joining other Republicans to vote against the measure were 26 Democrats.

In remarks on the floor, Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, said repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is necessary because the policy hurts national security and has cost the American taxpayer more than $1.3 million.

“When I served in Baghdad, my team did not care whether a fellow soldier was straight or gay,” he said. “With our military fighting two wars, why on earth would we tell over 13,500 able-bodied Americans that their services are not needed?”

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also spoke out in favor of the amendment and said passing repeal was keeping in line with honoring the service of members of the armed forces.

“Today, by repealing the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, we also honor the service and sacrifices of all who dedicated their lives to protecting the American people,” she said. “We honor the values of our nation, and we close the door on fundamental unfairness.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) was among those speaking out against the repeal amendment on the floor, but his remarks were limited.

After reading an April 30 letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates urging Congress to hold off on repeal, Skelton said “I oppose the amendment.”

Following the vote, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the approval of the measure means House members are standing “on the right side of history.”

“This is a historic step to strengthen our armed forces and to restore honor and integrity to those who serve our country so selflessly,” he said.

The vote in the House means repeal language is in both the House and Senate versions of defense authorization legislation. Earlier in the day, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted in favor of attaching repeal as part of its version of the bill.

In debate over the amendment, lawmakers who supported it advocated for its passage as a means to end discrimination, while opponents said the Pentagon study on the issue — due December 1 — should first be complete.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) was among those urging other House members to vote in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Anyone who’s willing to put on this country’s uniform and put his or her life on the line to protect our freedoms deserves our respect and should not be subject to discrimination,” he said. “Repealing this flawed policy is an important way for us to show that respect.”

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, provided some of the strongest objections to passing the repeal measure.

He said he wanted the Pentagon working group to complete its work in soliciting the input of U.S. service members before any action from Congress.

“After making the continuous sacrifice of fighting two wars over the course of eight years, the men and women of our military deserve to be heard,” McKeon said. “Congress acting first is the equivalent of turning to our men and women in uniform and their families and saying your opinions don’t count.”

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Meet the new LGBTQ liaison for the Democratic National Committee

Sam Alleman joins DNC after work in abortion rights movement

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Sam Alleman joins the DNC after working at Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The new LGBTQ liaison for the Democratic National Committee comes from a background not in LGBTQ advocacy, but in the abortion rights movement, and sees the two as working “hand in hand” for a common cause.

Sam Alleman, who started Monday as LGBTQ coalitions director for the DNC, said in an interview with the Washington Blade that his previous job as political outreach manager for five years at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund will inform his LGBTQ work going forward.

“The reproductive rights movement goes hand in hand with what we’ve been fighting for in the LGBTQ equality and equity movement as well,” Alleman said. “There is no being LGBTQ without your ability to have bodily autonomy and to make those same choices.”

The relationship between the LGBTQ movement and abortion rights may be more pronounced in the coming months: A national battle is taking place over a Texas law banning abortion in the state for any woman pregnant for more than six weeks as the U.S. Supreme Court will consider litigation with the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade. LGBTQ legal advocates, faced with a term at the Supreme Court with no major cases specific to LGBTQ rights, are already turning their focus to the abortion cases.

“I think that the gender equity lens here, as we move toward building out that permanent infrastructure that really brings all of those things together through more of a social justice lens, will be absolutely critical to being successful, particularly speaking to our younger demographics, to making sure trans and queer people feel included in a way that’s actually equitable and just,” Alleman said.

Alleman identified two key priorities for him in his new role at the DNC — turning out LGBTQ voters for Democratic candidates and building an internal infrastructure for the LGBTQ community — and said his previous work at Planned Parenthood Action Fund working with candidates and coalition groups will help him reach that goal.

“I really plan to use a lot of the lessons that I learned there in building out to making an inclusive campaign, both in programs and in voter contact infrastructure, within the party itself as well,” Alleman said.

Alleman, reiterating he was still in the first days of his job, said the process for building out the LGBTQ community infrastructure at the DNC is still in its initial phases. Alleman said his vision would be not only turning out LGBTQ voters, but finding a way that “allows them to plug in as volunteers and leaders within the party to do the voter contact to hold the events on the ground, to work with our state party partners, and making sure that their voices are represented.”

Key to building out that infrastructure, Alleman said, would be making sure all voices within the LGBTQ community are heard. Alleman made a special point to say queer and transgender people “who have been our partners for so long and deserve a seat at the table” will be an essential part of the infrastructure.

The voice of LGBTQ people, Alleman said, will be increasingly important in elections as the numbers of voters who identify as LGBTQ increase. Pointing to 2020 exit polls showing 7 percent of the electorate identified as LGBTQ, Alleman said more LGBTQ people than ever turned out in the presidential election and overwhelmingly backed Biden by 61 percent. (Republicans were also able to claim a small victory, having doubled their share of LGBTQ voters from 14 percent to 28 percent who voted for Donald Trump after the previous election.)

“We know that that demographic is only growing,” Alleman said. “Within under 18 year olds, approximately 16 percent of folks identify as LGBTQ in this country. So really my priorities are building out an infrastructure here at the DNC, that will turn out LGBTQ voters for Democratic candidates as they become a larger and larger subsection of our voting population.”

Alleman joins the Democratic National Committee days before a Virginia gubernatorial election observers see as a national bellwether for upcoming congressional midterm elections. Terry McAuliffe, a Democratic former governor who said in a interview with the Blade his opponent is the “most homophobic, anti-choice” candidate in Virginia history, is running against Glenn Youngkin, who said recently he continues to oppose same-sex marriage but “will support” the law.

Polls show an exceedingly close race in a state President Biden won handily in the presidential election. An Emerson College/Nexstar Media poll found the race is a dead heat and McAuliffe and Youngkin are tied with 48-48 percent each. The election is Tuesday.

Asked what he sees as his role in the closing days of the Virginia election, Alleman reiterated he was still on Day One of his role at the DNC, but believes Democrats are “doing everything possible to turn out different constituency groups for Terry McAuliffe and Democrats, up and down the ballot in Virginia.”

“My role as I start to step in here is really working to make sure that our national partner organizations are doing everything possible to turn out that book as we head into GOTV, and be a partner to them as they drive their supporters out to make sure that we’re not leaving anything on the table come next Tuesday when we elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia again,” Alleman said.

Lucas Acosta, a spokesperson for the DNC who joined in on the interview with Alleman, said the DNC is working with groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (his former employer) to highlight the records of both Virginia candidates.

“I think what happened last week — Youngkin’s comments on same-sex marriage — are concerning,” Acosta said. “That’s definitely something that we are going to continue to highlight in the closing days of the campaign. That obviously is just a further example why Youngkin is not the moderate he purports to be, but rather a Trump acolyte, who is going to turn back time on rights for a litany of Virginians, including LGBTQ folks.”

Democrats have enjoyed an advantage as a result of the sea change in support in favor of LGBTQ rights. But things may be beginning to shift as LGBTQ issues change and move away from same-sex marriage to other battlegrounds, such as transgender people participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.

Washington Post columnist James Hohmann reported this week on new data from the National Republican Senatorial Committee finding gender and race issues play out in favor of Republicans among suburban voters, if they’re on terms like critical race theory or concepts like “genderism.” According to the data, 65 percent said “allowing biological males to compete against women in high school and college sports is hugely unfair and will erase many of the gains women have made in athletics over the last 50 years.”

Just this week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 25, which effectively bars transgender girls from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity, making the Lone Star State the latest state to enact such a measure in defiance of federal laws against discrimination based on sex.

Alleman, asked whether the DNC would change the way it approaches these issues, said he wasn’t aware of the data and questioned whether the conclusion of the data “really makes much sense.”

“I think we’ll at least continue to push forward the message of what we’ve done as Democrats which is fight for these individuals to be treated just the same as everyone else,” Alleman said.

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State Department to issue passports with ‘X’ gender marker

Special LGBTQ rights envoy celebrates ‘significant step’

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(Public domain photo)

The State Department on Wednesday is expected to issue the first U.S. passport with an “X” gender marker.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad, on Tuesday told the Washington Blade and the Associated Press during a conference call the State Department will initially issue a gender-neutral passport to one person.

Stern said the State Department will begin “offering the ‘X’ gender marker option to routine passport applicants” in early 2022. A State Department official said the delay is necessary because the U.S. Office of Management and Budget needs to approve “the required form updates.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in June announced the State Department will allow passport applicants to “self-select their gender as ‘M’ or ‘F'”

People who identify as intersex, non-binary or gender non-conforming can choose a gender-neutral gender marker for their passports and Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a document that confirms an American who was born overseas is a U.S. citizen. The new policy that Blinken announced in June no longer requires “medical certification if an applicant’s self-selected gender does not match the gender on their other citizenship or identity documents.”

“Offering a third gender marker is a significant step towards ensuring that our administrative systems account for the diversity of gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics,” said Stern during the conference call. “Because people do not always fit within a male or a female designation, it doesn’t benefit anyone to have inconsistencies between people and systems.”

Stern added passports with an “X” gender marker will “reflect the true gender of the passport holder and make people safer, hopefully by reducing the likelihood of dehumanizing harassment and mistreatment that so often happens at border crossings when a person’s legal documentation does not correspond with their gender expression.”

“When a person obtains identity documents that reflect their true identity, they live with greater dignity and respect,” said Stern.

The State Department’s announcement comes a day after it publicly acknowledged Intersex Awareness Day, which commemorates the world’s first-ever intersex rights protect that took place in Boston in 1996.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. The State Department official with whom the Blade spoke on Tuesday declined to say whether Zzyym is the first person who will receive a gender-neutral passport in the U.S.

“The department does not generally comment on individual passport applications due to privacy considerations,” said the official.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad. (Photo courtesy of OutRight Action International)

President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

The White House in June named Stern, who had previously been the executive director of OutRight Action International, a global LGBTQ advocacy group, to her position. Stern said the issuance of passports with “X” gender markers demonstrates the Biden administration’s commitment to LGBTQ rights.

“I am proud that the United States seeks to protect and promote the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons globally and this is an excellent example of leading by example,” said Stern.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina are among the handful of other countries that issue gender-neutral passports.

The State Department official said their colleagues have “been coordinating with Canada and New Zealand on best practices as we work towards this goal, based on their experiences.” They said the State Department has also “coordinated with several LGBTQI+ organizations, both directly and through the White House Domestic Policy Council, throughout this process.”

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State Department acknowledges Intersex Awareness Day

Special LGBTQ rights envoy moderated activist roundtable

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State Department (public domain photo)

The State Department on Tuesday acknowledged the annual Intersex Awareness Day.

“We proudly recognize the voices and human rights of intersex people around the world,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement. “The Department of State is committed to promoting and protecting the rights, dignity, and equality of all individuals, including intersex persons.”

Price in his statement said U.S. foreign policy seeks to “pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics, while acknowledging the intersections with disability, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or other status.” Price also acknowledged intersex people “are subject to violence, discrimination, and abuse on the basis of their sex characteristics” and “many intersex persons, including children, experience invasive, unnecessary, and sometimes irreversible medical procedures.” 

“The department supports the empowerment of movements and organizations advancing the human rights of intersex persons and the inclusion of intersex persons in the development of policies that impact their enjoyment of human rights,” he said.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad, on Tuesday moderated a virtual panel with intersex activists from around the world.

Intersex Awareness Day commemorates the world’s first-ever intersex protest that took place in Boston on Oct. 26, 1996.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with their sex listed as “X.” The State Department in June announced it would begin to issue gender-neutral passports and documents for American citizens who were born overseas.

The U.S. and more than 50 other countries earlier this month signed a statement that urges the U.N. Human Rights Council to protect the rights of intersex people.

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